July 7, 2021

PCRD is Concerned About University’s Disregard for Princeton Master Plan

To the Editor:

The Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development, or PCRD, is a nonprofit organization formed recently to advocate for and enable a more effective and collaborative approach to land use development in Princeton.  We are not opposed to new development in our town; that said, we do believe in smart, eco-friendly development that will respect and build upon Princeton’s unique character and reflect the voices of its residents. Such development is best accomplished through transparent and inclusive deliberations that heed the input of developers, elected officials, and, importantly, those who live in town.

Princeton University has announced its intention to destroy three buildings that form part of the historic Prospect Avenue streetscape. PCRD supports the effort to protect the former Court Club in its current location and to protect the homes on Prospect Avenue from demolition by Princeton University. More broadly, PCRD is concerned about the disregard for the Princeton Master Plan and the diminished prospect for the evaluation of Club Row as a local historic district that Princeton University’s plan represents. Each degradation of this part of town becomes yet another step toward further undesirable changes throughout Princeton, thus diminishing, building by building and lot by lot, what makes Princeton so attractive to its residents.

Recently, Princeton has witnessed financially capable property owners neglect their facilities, only to turn to the municipality for relief by pointing to the poor state of buildings they have let deteriorate. Rewarding such bad behavior isn’t good for the town in the short run or the long run. Additionally, the environmental impact of demolition and its associated release of embodied carbon, isn’t consistent with sustainable development.

Princeton University should use its considerable talent and resources to find a solution that protects the historic streetscape and is consistent with the Master Plan and sound environmental practices.

Although the focus of recent headlines has been on Prospect Avenue, PCRD believes that town officials should always consider development holistically and through the lens of the residents of Princeton’s many desirable neighborhoods.  There has been considerable resident concern about several recently proposed development projects, in addition to Prospect Avenue.  Since early 2021, this list includes: the outsized Graduate Hotel to be built near Bank Street; the declaration of the Princeton Shopping Center and adjoining properties as an Area in Need of Redevelopment; and the controversial plan to add considerable parking to our neighborhood streets. Each of these projects has felt rushed to accommodate the desires of the developing party, without sufficient public input.

We urge all players in these dramas to take a collective deep breath, listen to each other, seek common ground (including through an updated Master Plan), and ultimately reach decisions that can be supported by all parties. With the wealth of talent and creativity that courses through town, we can do better than our current practices.

Jo Butler, Chair
Karen O’Connell, Vice-Chair
David Demuth, Treasurer
Jack Kerr, Executive Committee Chair
Princeton Coalition for Responsible Development